Every business that handles inventory requires an effective inventory management system, and barcodes have long been the foundation of the most effective, comprehensive, and reliable methods for managing inventory on a small or massive scale. Barcodes reduce the likelihood of human error, increase accuracy and efficiency, and help companies gain complete visibility into their stock levels and other valuable data that can inform decision-making.
Mastering barcode inventory management may seem an overwhelming prospect, but following proven best practices and steps to implementation make it a smooth and straightforward process:
- Choose a Consistent, Company-Wide Barcoding System
- Opt for Robust, Durable Barcode Labels That are Up to the Task
- Pair Barcode Labels with the Right Technology
- Provide Comprehensive Training for Employees
- Leverage Your Data to Inform Decision-Making
Choose a Consistent, Company-Wide Barcoding System
For multi-site companies, a consistent, company-wide barcoding system is a must. That begins with organizing all information on inventory, products, assets, and vendors. It’s not uncommon for goods, materials, and other assets to flow from site to site in these organizations, so your inventory must be labeled with consistent barcode symbology and be easily identifiable from any location within the company.
It’s also likely that some raw materials or supplies are procured from various vendors and suppliers, and you’ll want to have all necessary information tied to the appropriate inventory and easily accessible to those who need it. When barcode labeling is consistent throughout the company, it’s much easier to communicate between sites and share and transfer assets without losing track of assets or transferring materials that aren’t needed.
Opt for Robust, Durable Barcode Labels That are Up to the Task
Depending on the environmental conditions of your inventory storage locations, a standard, paper-based label may not be up to the task. When barcode labels aren’t durable enough to withstand these conditions, they can deteriorate over time and may become unreadable, rendering them useless. Likewise, companies that opt for on-site printing options may sacrifice durability, resulting in the need to replace damaged labels often, hindering productivity and introducing the likelihood of error when working with un-readable, damaged labels.
Companies considering on-site printing options should consider pre-printed barcode labels that offer greater durability to withstand hazardous conditions and other requirements specific to the application.
For high-value inventory, you may want to opt for tamper-evident polyester asset labels or destructible vinyl asset labels, which deter theft and leave clear evidence of tampering behind. For inventory exposed to indoor and outdoor conditions, you should opt for a more durable indoor/outdoor asset label, such as the foil asset label, or for extra durability, Camcode’s Rigid Metalphoto® Aluminum Asset Tags.
Certain industries, such as the utility industry, will have more specific needs and require barcode labels designed for these specifications, such as utility meter tags, pole tags, and barcode labels that can withstand exposure to harsh outdoor weather conditions.
The bottom line is that you should invest in barcode labels suitable for your applications, and that requires a careful evaluation of your inventory, environmental conditions, and any industry-specific requirements that you’ll need to address with appropriate labeling.
Pair Barcode Labels with the Right Technology
Barcode labels are crucial, but they’re only part of the equation. Pairing barcode labels with the right technology – including handheld barcode scanners, barcode scanning apps and readers, and inventory management software or inventory management apps and trackers completes the puzzle to provide a solid foundation for efficient, data-driven inventory control.
Hardware like handheld barcode scanners and apps that allow a smartphone to function in a similar way facilitate rapid and accurate data collection and documentation, and software systems and inventory management tracking apps provide a place for that data to go. There are several considerations to weigh when selecting barcode scanners, such as decoding capabilities, scanning distance, and other features such as durability, interfaces, Bluetooth compatibility, and more.
The best software systems are rich in features and functionality that make it possible to analyze data in real-time, generate reports with ease, forecast for the future, and more. Some software platforms are industry-specific, with specialized features that can help to streamline regulatory compliance.
Provide Comprehensive Training for Employees
Of course, implementing the right barcode labels and procuring the best hardware and software means nothing if it’s cumbersome and unintuitive for employees to use, so ease of use should be a top consideration. Beyond that, you should also provide comprehensive training to all employees who will be interacting with these tools and systems – on any level or frequency – to ensure that your team understands how these tools can help them to perform their jobs better and how to use them effectively.
Fortunately, barcode inventory management makes training simpler. Rather than training employees on the cumbersome and often complex task of manual data entry and inventory management, your hardware and software does most of the heavy lifting, and most modern technology is fairly intuitive to use and easy to learn.
Leverage Your Data to Inform Decision-Making
Mastering barcode inventory management doesn’t stop after implementation; it’s only beginning. Getting the most out of your barcode inventory management system means leveraging the data that’s now at your fingertips to the fullest extent. More robust data collection and analysis enables companies to:
- Increase productivity – The elimination of manual data collection frees up valuable time and enhances the accuracy of your data. Plus, when it’s time to analyze that data, there’s no time wasted searching for spreadsheets or old-fashioned paper-and-pencil ledgers and spending hours trying to compile all those numbers into something meaningful.
- Track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – Businesses struggling to meet goals (growth, revenue, reducing loss, etc.) are better able to set measurable objectives and monitor progress toward those goals with data that’s easily tracked, reported, and analyzed. Because data is collected in near real-time, reports can be generated in minutes and progress evaluated at any time, meaning you can shift course rapidly when necessary.
- Improve visibility throughout the supply chain – Accurate, current, and reliable inventory data enables companies to implement better communication protocols, such as providing advanced shipment notifications (ASNs) to receivers, improving transparency and fostering better relationships with partners.
- Reduce touches – Through better forecasting of inventory demand, companies can minimize the number of touches required on every inventory item or asset as it moves throughout the organization and through the entire supply chain by pre-planning picking routes, optimizing inventory control, and even optimizing the warehouse or stock room layout.
At the end of the day, mastering barcode inventory management gives you greater control over the company’s bottom line. You’ll reduce waste by stocking the right amount of inventory to meet demands, drastically reduce human error and man hours, and provide better service to partners, which improves relationships and opens the door to greater opportunities. Following these best practices will ensure a smooth implementation and allow you to start reaping these benefits quickly.